The Edwardian garden designer Gertrude Jekyll described this sun-loving, evergreen shrub as 'one of the grandest of all plants', Euphorbia characias Wulfenii are the perfect plant to create structure throughout the year in the perennial border.
This handsome euphorbia has upright stems clothed with whorls of fleshy, mat grey-green leaves that lend the whole plant a textural quality that is unparalleled. From March to June the plants are topped with broad cylindrical heads of intense chartreuse-green flowers with bronze 'eyes'.
The plant forms a natural rounded shape, and brings structure and an architectural quality to the garden, while the colour and texture offer almost endless contrast possibilities.
Euphorbia characias originates from the Mediterranean, where it is found on dry rocky slopes and scrub land. These low maintenance plants are equally at home in a contemporary minimalist or gravel garden. They are very tolerant of drought, are hardy to minus 15°C (5°F) and can resist high salinity so are very suitable to a maritime garden.
Sowing: Sow in late spring to early summer.
Soak the seeds for two hours in warm water before sowing. Euphorbia plants do not like root disturbance, so it is best to sow the seeds in place of growth or to use deep plugs or pots. Grow at 20 to 26°C (68 to 78°F) . Be patient, germination is generally very slow, it may occur in two to three weeks at but sometimes can take a few months.
Sow directly where they are to grow, once temperatures have risen and the soil has warmed. Sow on the surface of the soil and keep damp but not wet.
Surface sow the seeds into plugs or small pots using a good seed sowing mix or well drained soil and cover seed with vermiculite, do not exclude light.
Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into larger pots to grow on. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out. Plant 30cm (12in) apart in sun and ordinary well drained soil.
Euphorbia need full sun to partial shade, with a well-drained soil mix. The plants should be well watered and be allowed to dry before watering again. The plants are native to poor soils and do not need fertiliser or excessive water. Too much of either will provide lush growth but at the expense of flowers.
Although it can be strongly evergreen through winter, each stem is biennial, so will produce leaves in its first year and flower in its second. Once the stem has produced a flower it should be cut right back to its base or to a point where there is new growth emerging, in midsummer. This will make way for lots of new, fresh shoots
Prune the old stalks in June, be careful to cut back only second year branches, almost as soon as they're removed, lots of fresh new shoots will appear.
Borders and Beds. Cut Flowers.
To produce longer lasting cut flowers, sear the cut ends over a flame or dip them in boiling water.
As with all members of the Euphorbiaceae, plants and seed are toxic if eaten.
When working with spurges, plants should be handled with care, especially when sap is showing. Always wear gloves since the milky sap is poisonous and a potential skin irritant. The latex is corrosive to the skin and can cause burns or dermatitis.
Two main subspecies are found in different regions of the Mediterranean Basin. These often overlap in the western areas of distribution:
Euphorbia characias subsp. characias is found from Portugal to Crete,
while Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii from Southern France to Anatolia.
Euphorbia has a long history as a medicinal plant, it was known to Theophrastus (371 - 287BC).
The genus was named after Euphorbes (50BC - AD23), the personal physician to the Numidian King Juba II, who is said to have discovered the toxic and curative potential of the white and milky sap in the plant.
The word Euphorbus derives from the Greek eu meaning ‘good’ and phorbe meaning ‘pasture or fodder’ thus giving the meaning ‘well fed.’ Some sources suggest that Juba was amused by the play upon words and chose his physician's name for the plant because of its succulent nature and because of Euphorbus' corpulent physique.
The species name characias is derived from Xaraxias, which is the ancient name that Dioscorides referred to it by in the first century A.D.
The subspecies was named Wulfenii as a tribute to Professor Wulfen, a distinguished scholar and botanist especially of the Eastern Alps. Many plants bear the species or subspecies name "Wulfenii" in his honour.
Euphorbias have also been given the common name ‘spurge’ from the Latin expurgare ( French espurgier ) meaning 'to purge', as the sap of herbaceous euphorbias used to be used as a purgative, a laxative.
The Natural History (Latin: Naturalis Historia), an encyclopedia published circa AD77-79 by Pliny the Elder says: "The tithymalos (spurge) is called by our people the ‘milk plant,’ ('Herba lactaria') and by some persons the ‘goat lettuce’.
It belongs to the enormous genus of Euphorbia which includes such plants as the traditional holiday poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), common garden spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias), and quite a few species of cactus look-alike plants, such as Euphorbia neriifolia.
Euphorbus was the Greek physician of Juba II, the King of Mauretania. Juba was educated in Rome and married the daughter of Antony and Cleopatra. Euphorbus was interested in botany and had written about an African cactus-like plant he had found or which he knew about from the slopes of Mt. Atlas which was used as a powerful laxative. That plant may have been Euphorbia resinifera which, like all Euphorbias had a latexy exudate.
Euphorbus had a brother named Antonius Musa who was the physician to Augustus Caesar in Rome. When Juba heard that Caesar had honoured his physician with a statue, he decided to honour his own physician by naming the plant he had written about after him.
One species of Euphorbia, E. regis-jubae, was named in honour of King Juba II.
Botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus assigned the name Euphorbia to the entire genus in the physician's honour.
Franz Xaver Freiherr von Wulfen (1728-1805) was a botanist, zoologist, mineralogist, alpinist, and Jesuit priest. Born in Belgrade, son of the Austrian lieutenant field-marshal, Christian Friedrich von Wulfen. His mother, née Mariassy, was a Hungarian countess.
Franz's education took place at Kaschau Gymnasium in present-day Košice, Slovakia. When he was 17, he joined a Jesuit school in Vienna and following his graduation he became a school instructor (chiefly of mathematics and physics) in Vienna, Graz, Neusohl, Gorz, Laibach (Ljubljana), and from 1764 Klagenfurt.
After the Suppression of the Society of Jesus in the 1760s he remained in Klagenfurt until his death. By 1763 he was officially a priest.
From his twenty-second year he devoted himself to botany. The upland and valley flora of the Eastern Alps was his chief study. To find specimens, Wulfen frequently hiked up the Grossglockner. and was a pioneer in exploring the Austrian Alps. At 3,798 metres above the Adriatic (12,461 ft), the Grossglockner is the highest mountain of Austria,
In 1781, he published his studies in the well-illustrated Plantae rariorum Carinthicae (Rare Plants of Carinthia). He made numerous trips to the south (on many occasions to the Adriatic Sea) and to the north as far as Holland.
Wulfen died at the age of 76 years. He was a distinguished scholar and botanist especially of the Eastern Alps. Many plants bear the species or subspecies name "Wulfenii" in his honour.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 Seeds Seed Form Natural Family Euphorbiaceae Genus Euphorbia Species characias Synonym Wulfen's Mediterranean spurge Common Name Mediterranean Spurge Other Common Names Albanian spurge Hardiness Shrub Flowers Intense chartreuse-green flowers Natural Flower Time March to June Height 1.5m (5ft) if left unpruned Spread 1.5m (5ft) if left unpruned Position Full Sun to Partial Shade. Time to Sow Sow in early spring to early autumn. Germination Be patient, germination is generally very slow